Clippers cruise again, Falmouth showdown awaits
PORTLAND—Tuesday afternoon, in a Western Class B quarterfinal, the Yarmouth boys' basketball team forced 21 first quarter turnovers and raced to a 27-4 lead over Lincoln Academy en route to an easy victory.
Thursday night, the third-ranked Clippers expected to get a tougher challenge from No. 2 Spruce Mountain, but the game's first four-and-a-half minutes were deja vu, as Yarmouth forced 11 turnovers and jumped out to a 15-0 lead.
Unlike Lincoln, the Phoenix would settle down and keep things interesting, pulling within 15-6 after one period, but the Clippers, behind a career effort from senior Sam Torres, managed to maintain a healthy 28-12 advantage at halftime.
Then, in the second half, senior standout Josh Britten set the tone with a 3-pointer and before you knew it, Yarmouth had a 25-point lead after three periods. The Clippers waltzed home from there, winning, 60-30.
Torres had a season-high 18 points, Britten added 15, senior Chris Knaub and junior Christian Henry were exceptional defensively and on the glass as Yarmouth improved to 16-4, ended Spruce Mountain's inaugural season at 18-2 and advanced to set up a storybook showdown with undefeated, top-ranked Falmouth in the Western B Final Saturday at 3:45 p.m., at the Civic Center.
"Starting out 15-0 is a great run," Britten said. "It's hard to recover from that. Defense is our bread and better. Teams have to prepare for it. Some can and some can't. We love to start games like that."
Yarmouth has become one of the top contenders in Western B over the past five years and its resurgence was capped last winter by its first trip to the regional final in 37 seasons. Even the Clippers fell short against Cape Elizabeth, they were on the map to stay.
This winter, Yarmouth produced 14 wins for the fourth time in five years and its four losses came by a combined nine points. Ranked third in the region, the Clippers obliterated No. 11 Lincoln in the quarterfinals, 77-35.
Spruce Mountain, a first-year school which combines the former Jay and Livermore Falls High Schools, had a wonderful debut, losing only at powerhouse Dirigo (the Phoenix avenged that loss by beating the Cougars in the finale) and winning its 17 games by an average of 21 points. As the No. 2 seed, Spruce Mountain shockingly dominated No. 7 Wells, 63-34, in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
The teams had never met and Yarmouth made the Phoenix's first trip to the Civic Center one they'd soon like to forget.
Just 26 seconds in, Clippers sophomore Nate Shields-Auble put his team ahead to stay with a putback. After a steal by Henry, Britten set up Torres for a layup. With 6:25 to go in the first, Torres knocked down a 3. Knaub then passed to Britten for a long jumper and it was 9-0 just over two minutes in.
Yarmouth then demonstrated its longball capacity as Knaub (from sophomore David Murphy) and Britten (from Murphy) buried 3s to give the Clippers a commanding 15-0 advantage with 3:33 still to play in the first quarter.
"We've been playing all year to get here," said Torres. "The people who were on the team last year just came out flying and we had a good start to the game. It started with defense. We just want to outwork our opponent. Spruce Mountain's a good team. We had guys on the floor all working together. That's what we stress. We did it tonight."
"Everything stems from our defense," Henry said. "We're pretty hard to stop. We're trying to cover as much of the court as we can."
"The first few minutes were key," added Yarmouth coach Adam Smith. "We needed to start well tonight and we did."
After turning the ball over 11 times in the game's first five minutes, Spruce Mountain got on the scoreboard with 1:48 to go in the first when senior Zach Bonnevie set up classmate Jacob Bessey for a layup. Bonnevie followed with a long 3 and with Britten and Shields-Auble in early foul trouble, a free throw from Phoenix senior James Barker made it a 15-6 game after one.
Despite forcing 14 turnovers and dominating early, the Clippers still had a long way to go.
Yarmouth started the second period hot as well as Torres made a layup after a steal, Murphy hit a jumper and Torres took a pass from Knaub after a steal, raced in and scored a pretty reverse layup to make it 21-6.
"We always come out flying with our defense," said Britten. "We love playing D. It worked well for Sammy, it got him some open layups."
A jumper by Henry (assisted by Knaub) opened the lead up to 23-6, but the Clippers weren't able to deliver a knockout blow in the first half.
After Barker made a free throw, Bessey hit a baseline jumper. Henry then was the beneficiary of some good fortune, snaring a blocked shot behind the 3-point stripe, letting fly and getting nothing but net. After a foul shot from Bonnevie, Shields-Auble scored on a putback to make it 28-10, but Yarmouth wouldn't score again before the half.
Spruce Mountain crept back within striking distance as Barker made a layup and Barker and senior Nathan Shink hit individual foul shots to cut the deficit to 28-14 at the break.
The Clippers hadn't put the Phoenix away and with Britten, Henry and Shields-Auble all playing with three fouls, nothing was guaranteed.
"I told the guys we do this every night in practice," Smith said. "Sixteen minutes left. We had to win the next eight minutes. It's nothing we hadn't done all year. The expectation is you can play four quarters with four fouls if you have to. The team stepped up. Guys covered for other guys."
Britten opened up the third quarter with a 3 and any Spruce Mountain upset hopes went out the window.
"It's a huge momentum builder if you come out and hit a 3," Britten said. "We knew we had to keep on going. (Spruce Mountain's) a good rebounding team and they run offense well. They have scorers and athletes. Our pressure kept them down and they couldn't get up from that."
After Bessey scored on a putback, Britten passed to Torres for a layup and Torres made a layup after a steal to push the lead to 35-16. Bessey converted a leaner and Barker made a layup to cut the deficit to 15, but a steal and layup from freshman Adam LaBrie and a leaner by LaBrie made it 39-20 with 3:02 to play in the third.
"Adam's loving being part of this, as he should," said Smith. "A freshman having those opportunities. He's great to have in there. He's handled it well. Always with a smile."
After Phoenix senior Trevin Dunlop scored on a putback, Yarmouth pushed its lead over 20 as a Murphy driving layup was followed by a Torres free throw, Torres made a layup after a LaBrie steal, Knaub got a tough angle leaner to fall and Britten scored on a putback. A foul shot from Barker as time expired still had the Clippers on top, 48-23, after three periods.
"These guys are unselfish," Smith said. "Chris does the dirty work under the boards and throws it down the court. Even though we're a little small in stature, we can finish at the other end. That helped give us a good spurt. We were tired for a bit and had foul trouble, but Sammy's defense and those easy buckets gave us life to pick it up again and play well."
For the second game in a row, the fourth quarter was academic.
Sixteen seconds in, Henry set up Torres for a layup, his 17th and 18th points on the night. Dunlop answered with a layup, but Britten converted an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, foul, free throw) and Britten made a layup after a steal to make it a 30-point contest, 55-25, with 6:43 still to go.
A three-point play by Barker (Britten fouled out on the play) and a bank shot from Bessey with 5:29 remaining proved to be Spruce Mountain's final points.
Down the stretch, as Smith substituted for his starters, Henry made a free throw, Shields-Auble scored on a putback and junior Chase Hughes brought the curtain down on the 60-30 triumph with a bank shot.
"I thought we've played really well the last couple games," Smith said. "I was a little concerned tonight, but it's the semifinals, you should have struggles. To our advantage, we've been here. If it was our first time in the Civic Center, I think Spruce and us would have sparred a little bit. By the time they settled in, it was a little out of hand. They made a run, but it was too much. It was fortunate for us we played a first-year team here. They played us man-up the rest of the way."
Torres is always in the middle of the action as a steady ballhandler, assist man and defender, so his 18-point eruption made people take notice.
"It's definitely an aberration," Torres said. "It was due to the team defense we played. We had balanced scoring. It was a total team win."
His teammates and coach were impressed.
"Sam was great tonight," said Henry. "It proves our offense stems from our defense. He had a great effort. Senior leadership."
"Sam had a lot of good looks tonight," Smith said. "Sammy's motor didn't stop. If he's going to beat people up and down the floor, he'll get good looks."
Torres also had three rebounds, two steals and an assist.
Britten, the Western Maine Conference's leading scorer this winter with a 21.8 points per game average and now the Clippers' all-time scoring leader as well, finished with 15 points, despite missing roughly a quarter of play due to his foul trouble. Britten also had five boards and three steals.
Henry added six points and a team-high seven rebounds. He also had three steals.
"With this group, it's fun to be out here," said Henry. "It's fun to run with the seniors. They're great leaders."
Shields-Auble finished with six points, five boards and two blocked shots. Knaub had five points, but had a game-high seven steals and also grabbed five rebounds.
"I thought Chris has been an anchor for us all year," Smith said. "If he was 6-4, he might be playing Olympic soccer or going to a big-time college for basketball. What he does with his size is unbelievable. Christian's fed off that this year. The other guys want to work hard for (Chris)."
LaBrie (four boards and three steals) and Murphy had four points apiece and Hughes finished with two.
Despite the foul trouble and the Phoenix's size, the Clippers persevered.
"It's hard to put bodies on big men," said Henry. "There's not much we can do about size, just try harder. We make a point of playing hard with three or four fouls and keeping our heads on the court. It's paid off. We were in trouble, but we kept our heads tonight. That was good to see."
Yarmouth was outrebounded, 33-31, but finished with a whopping 21 steals. The Clippers committed 17 turnovers, but forced 33 (giving them 73 forced turnovers in two tournament games). They made 3-of-10 foul shots, a statistic that needs to go up dramatically if they want to advance further.
One statistic that is likely to change at some point is this: In 64 minutes of tournament play, Yarmouth has yet to trail in a game for a single second.
Spruce Mountain got solid performances from Barker (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Bessey (10 points, five boards). Bonnevie and Dunlop (six boards) had four points each, Shink (six rebounds, two blocks) one.
The Phoenix made 7-of-15 foul shots and was doomed from the start with turnovers and a big deficit.
A taste of November in February
While they're ancient rivals on the pitch in the fall, Saturday, for the first time ever, Yarmouth and Falmouth (20-0) will duel in a basketball regional final. The Yachtsmen are seeking their second state title berth in three seasons. The Clippers haven't played in a state game since 1973.
Falmouth beat Yarmouth twice this year, 46-42, at home and 46-43 on the road, in overtime (Shields-Auble wasn't available for that contest). The teams have met twice previously in the playoffs with the Clippers winning in the 1971 Western C quarterfinals (71-59) and the Yachtsmen taking a 2003 Western B quarterfinal (44-31).
Everyone's looking forward to this one.
"Falmouth's a great team," said Britten, who had to miss this past soccer season with injury. "I'm really excited for the game. It's a huge rivalry. It's really fun. We've had such close games both times. I think it'll be a battle the whole time. We have to keep the pressure defense up the whole game and run the floor."
"There's no other team we'd rather play," Torres said. "They're an excellent team. They're 20-0 for a reason. We're excited for the challenge. We'll be ready to come out Saturday. If they get their inside game going, they'll be strong. We have to try to take out their inside game and shut them down on the wings. (Seniors Matt) Packard and (Jack) Cooleen are their keys. They're a great duo. Chris had to work hard defensively last time. With Nate out there, he does things that doesn't show up on the state sheet. He rebounds well and takes the opposing team's best player out of the game. If we play our game and outwork them, we'll be fine."
"It's a great rivalry," Henry added. "I like playing them. They like playing us. We had close games both times. It'll be a great atmosphere on the court. I'm looking forward to a good game. With our senior leadership and coach Smith backing us up, we hope to come out on top."
After falling one step shy of the state final a year ago, Smith is hopeful the Clippers can finish the job Saturday, but after a pair of romps so far in the tournament, he knows it won't be easy for his team to advance.
"We'll struggle Saturday night against Falmouth," he said. "But we'll struggle with five guys on the court going hard. Good things happen when five guys do what we do on the floor. We're playing as well as we've played all year. I hope we play just a little better in halfcourt offense against Falmouth. They're a great defensive team. That's a struggle in itself.
"We're happy to be here and to have an opportunity again to play for a Western Maine title. What really hurt us in the end last year was our bodies were worn out after the Greely game (a semifinal round win, two days prior to losing to Cape Elizabeth in the regional final). We had a couple guys sitting in chairs at that Friday walkthrough, and it was a walkthrough. I think we're in better shape and condition and I think we're better prepared to face the challenge Saturday. The two times we faced (Falmouth this year) they were very good games. I hope we have a chance in the fourth quarter to win it."